Who is this guy?
You probably hadn't heard of cornerback Jamel Dean out of Auburn until the NFL Combine last month. He was known in NFL circles, of course, and to Auburn fans, but the almost-two-year starter was a little under the radar because of some injuries he fought through in the beginning of his college career. He ended up catching the attention of media and fans in Indianapolis though when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, good for the best time among his group of defensive backs. He coupled it with a 41-inch vertical jump and a 4.19 20-yard shuttle time.
At Auburn, the Cocoa, Florida native started all 12 games his senior year, recording 30 tackles and 11 pass breakups in 2018. His best game came against Texas A&M, where he had seven tackles, a fumble recovery and a sack. He's an athletic press corner that can run with even the speediest wide receivers, but he's physical, too. He doesn't shy away from tackles, or from the quarterback in the case against the Aggies.
Coming out of high school in Brevard County, he was a two-time Florida first-team Class 4A All-State selection. He was one of the top cornerback prospects in the nation and ranked No. 32 overall by ESPN. Dean initially spent a semester at Ohio State before transferring to Auburn. He was medically disqualified while at Ohio State because of a knee injury he had been battling since high school but went on to Auburn where he remained healthy for his last two seasons.
What are they saying about him?
Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht:
"Jamel is a big guy. Obviously, I know the talk is how he blew it up at the Combine and ran very fast but he plays a physical game. He's a really good press guy, he's a really good tackler and he's a really sharp kid, as well."
Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross speaking on both Dean and fellow rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting:
"Both have good size, good length and good speed. They can cover very well. They should help us out tremendously."
What can he do?
Obviously, the biggest thing that jumps out is Dean's speed but it's made even more impressive by his size given that he's over 6-1 and weighs 206 pounds. Not only can he match receivers and run with them, but how big he is allows him to be extremely physical, too. He's a good tackler like Licht mentioned and was used in corner blitzes for the Tigers. He can also come down to play the run or take on any receiver, no matter the size, coming out of the slot or the backfield. Take a look at the 1:14 mark in the video of his game against Texas A&M last season below, for instance. The Aggie quarterback fakes the handoff and instead hits his tight end in the backfield who tries to get outside. Dean heads him off for only a short gain with a great tackle out of bounds.
Dean does a good job in engaging receivers within the allowable cushion. Even when he looks to be playing off, he can turn and run stride-for-stride with his man. However, he could do a better job of disengaging when the receiver's purposes are to block him or keep him away from the play. He's a press corner but played some zone coverage, as well, proving he can be flexible when he needs to be. The biggest knock against Dean that you'll hear has been his injury status but he's been healthy for two straight seasons and with an NFL strength and conditioning program waiting for him, he should continue that trend.
How can he fit in?
He was a college teammate of Bucs' cornerback Carlton Davis but is more physical than Davis and seems to have more variety to his game. He'll do well on the outside and provide depth for the time being at a position that has a healthy Vernon Hargreaves at its disposal. After the Bucs drafted Dean, he said in a conference call that he and Davis used to work together after practice all the time while in school together. I'd be willing to bet that will now continue here in Tampa Bay, which should help make Dean's transition from the collegiate to the pro levels that much smoother.